UNITE’S GENERAL Secretary Sharon Graham is threatening to pull the union’s remaining funding for the Labour Party over the Coventry bin workers’ dispute. On Wednesday 9 February Graham said: ‘Let me be very clear – the remaining financial support of the Labour Party is now under review. Your behaviour and mistreatment of our members will not be accepted. It’s time to act like Labour, the party for workers.’ She summed up by saying, ‘our wallet is closed to bad employers.’
From Monday 31 January, Coventry bin workers have taken all-out strike action, Monday to Friday. They aim to continue until 23 March.
The workers are striking over pay, which is currently set at £22,183 a year. The council has so far refused to enter meaningful talks, preferring to brief the press arguing that the 70 drivers are already well-paid and unreasonable in asking for more. The Labour council has also been hiring scab labour from AFE Recruitment.
The scab workers are being offered up to £26 per hour. The striking bin workers are currently paid between £11.49 and £14.37 and are seeking a raise this to between £14 to £17 an hour. The money spent on scab labour has already cost Coventry taxpayers more than settling the original dispute would have: £1.8 million compared to £250,000 to be precise.
Not a penny, not a vote!
Refusing a reasonable pay claim, attacking strikers in the press and hiring scab workers are obviously not the actions of a party that has the interests of the working class at heart.
Sharon Graham has reacted sharply, ‘There will be no Labour politician in the Midlands or party office who will get one single penny from my members, or any practical support of any kind, while this strike is going ahead.’
Labour leader Keir Starmer on the other hand has used the dispute to display how anti-union the party has become under his ‘new management’. He told the BBC, ‘I don’t think an industrial dispute in Coventry should influence relations between the Labour Party and its trade unions,’ appearing to snigger at the mention of the city’s name.
Graham is correct to make Unite’s funding of the Labour Party conditional on its actions towards union members. For too long, trade union leaders have told us to just be patient and vote Labour. They have held back strike action, particularly against Labour councils, fearing it would embarrass the party. The promise of better treatment under a Labour government some time in the future has been used to justify doing nothing now.
Union funding has amounted to writing Labour a blank cheque, whatever its actions in opposition or in government, locally or nationally. It is therefore welcome that a prominent union leader is making our support for Labour conditional on its treatment of workers.
The bin workers have already taken their dispute to the public, leafleting from door to door and marching through the city centre. Now they need to up the stakes in the run-up to the May local elections by calling on Unite – and Unison, GMB – to ballot their other members in the council to strike against Coventry Labour’s unprecedented hiring of scab labour to break a strike. If the council get away with this anti-union provocation, every future strike will be threatened.
Unite should call on Labour councillors and candidates to openly take their side and break with the strike-breakers – or face a funding and campaigning boycott during the election. Coventry needs a pay rise!